EU Vows to Step Up Its Security Role in Asia-Pacific Amid Concerns Over Sino-Solomon Pact
Around 40 percent of the EU's trade passes through the South China Sea. The "EU Strategy for Cooperation in Indo-Pacific" was launched in April 2021 with the aim of recommitting Brussels "politically to the region to contribute to its stability, security, prosperity, and sustainable development".
The European Union has vowed to step up its security role in the Asia-Pacific amid rising concerns expressed by Western partners over Beijing's growing presence in the crucial region, The Guardian reported on Wednesday.
Gabriele Visentin, the EU's special envoy to the Indo-Pacific, said that the Solomon Islands had "sent to us" a "loud and clear signal" with the signing of the security cooperation agreement with Beijing, which was ratified last month. He reckoned that the signal was the need to do more in the region.
The US and Australia, both major security partners of the EU, have warned that a potential Chinese military base under the Sino-Solomon security pact would constitute a "red line" for both countries, and it could have consequences.
The European diplomat, however, refused to outright condemn the agreement until he had seen it. Visentin also defended the right of the Solomon Islands to make "sovereign decisions".
Visentin remarked that the "EU and others have to do more" in the Asia-Pacific region. Visentin added that the EU will "cooperate whenever possible", but also "defend its interests" when necessary.
"It's not directed against a country or another - it's a way of enhancing our capacity and our credibility in terms of defending our interests", he said.
Visentin clarified that a "more intense" security plan with countries of the Asia-Pacific region would not involve setting up military bases or deployment of troops in the region.
He underlined that the EU would seek to conduct military training, exercises on land and at sea, and boost intelligence. Further, he also backed the idea of having more EU vessels pass through the region, apparently akin to the contentious FONOPs (Freedom of Navigation Operations) frequently undertaken by US forces.
Characterising Brussels' complex relationship with its largest trade partner China, the EU diplomat remarked that he viewed Beijing as "a partner, a competitor and a rival".
While Visentin discarded the possibility of an imminent war between China and Western allies or partners in the Asia-Pacific, he argued that the EU was concerned that the "multilateral rules-based order will not be fully respected".
"The price tag that has been put on the breach of the multilateral rules-based order is quite high. It's surely a signal to others who might wish to break the multilateral order in such a violent way, well, then they know what they can encounter", he stated.
More Involvement in Pacific a 'Challenge' for EU, Says Envoy to Solomon Islands
Sujiro Seam, the EU's ambassador to the Pacific and Solomon Islands, backed Visentin's observations about the need for a "more intensive security plan" in the Asia-Pacific in light of the Beijing-Honiara security pact.
However, he pointed out that the EU's involvement in defence-related matters in the Pacific was "very limited".
"It is a challenge for the future, and this security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands must be considered in the development of the European Union action on security and defence in the region", Seam remarked.
"Traditionally in the Pacific, the European Union has been a development partner. The main challenge is to show that we can be something else, a strategic partner in security and defence", he added.
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